The Nation possesses extensive water rights but these rights are largely unquantified. The Navajo Nation claims aboriginal, historic, appropriative and reserved rights to the use of all the water necessary for the Navajo Reservation to be the permanent homeland for the Navajo people. Such rights to water have been judicially recognized by the United States Supreme Court in Winters v. United States, 207 U.S. 564, 567 (1908). “Winters rights” or “reserved rights” have the following attributes:
- a priority date based on the date the lands were taken into trust where the water is to be used
- are satisfied out of the unappropriated water available when the lands were taken into trust
- apply to all tribes whether lands were set aside by treaty, statute or executive order
- are not lost through non-use and cannot be abandoned
See also: In re the General Adjudication of All Rights to Use Water in the Gila River System and Source, 35 P. 3d 68, 76 (2001). The Winters doctrine does not stand for the proposition that tribes always possess the most senior right or that tribes are entitled to all the water arising on, flowing through, or under their reservations.